Lauriol Plaza: Mexican Paradise

It’s official, DC. Spring is here. Warm weather has arrived. The ice storms are gone, our spirits have been lifted, and our minds are thinking of lifting spirits (aka “drinking heavily”). There are two windows of time in this city when the weather is perfect, neither bitter cold or disgustingly hot and humid. It’s a time when you can leave your windows open at night, go outdoors without dreading it, and join your friends for dinner and drinks at one of our many patio bars (Local 16, 18th Street Lounge, Wonderland, etc). It’s also time for the beautiful people of the city to start packing themselves into Lauriol Plaza as if Corona and swirly margaritas were life necessities.

Most people either love or hate LP. I’m quite fond of it myself, partly because I think their food and margs rock, and partly because it takes me 5 minutes to walk there from my house. The biggest complaint I hear is, “Oh but the wait! You have to wait for hours to get a table!” Nonsense, poopy pants! If you’re a party of 8, sure. But if you’re 2-4 people, the most you’ll have to wait is 45 minutes, usually only 10-15. They key is getting there before 7:30, but if that’s too early for you, just hang out on the patio with your friends and a pitcher of margaritas and enjoy this weather while it lasts.

As far as the food goes, I highly recommend sticking with the basics. The fajitas, tacos, burritos, chimichangas, and enchiladas are all tasty treats. You may be tempted to get something fancy like lamb fajitas or crab enchiladas, but it’s your gamble, not mine.

So what say you, DC residents? Can you name a better Mexican food restaurant in town?

Photo by our very own Tom Bridge.

23 Comments so far

  1. c (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 8:58 am

    lets see,

    pepitos bakery II
    Taqueria Distrito Federal
    cafe oaxaca (when it opens)
    etc. etc. etc.

    we aren’t chicago, but geez, do you have to settle for Lauriol?

  2. Max (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 9:07 am

    Settle? Who’s settling? Not me. I grew up in Denver where there are hundreds of Mexican food joints, so I think I know what I’m talking about.

    I haven’t heard of any of those places on your list, but I’d like to try them out. And by the way, when I say that I like LP, it’s because I like the whole package (food, atmosphere, wait staff, value, etc). A place with a name of “Pepitos Bakery II” doesn’t exactly sound like it has atmosphere going for it. Am I wrong?

    Another local favorite for many people is Rosa Mexicano, which is good, but I think it’s over priced and I’ve had to wait for a table longer there than at LP.

  3. ugh (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 9:08 am

    lauriol is the douche capital of dupont

  4. Max (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 9:10 am

    Ah, here we go. This is exactly what I mean when I say you either love it or hate it. What exactly is “douche” about LP? Is there a lot of vinegar and water in their salsa?

  5. Arlene (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 9:57 am

    Wow, Denver is the Mexican food capitol of the world? Someone alert Tom Sietsema before he heads out to Oaxaca again.

    I think people recognize the problem with Lauriol is that they peddle in mediocrity and safety. The food is subpar, by other standards, especially if you try a place like Oyamel or Pepitos Bakery, where attention to ingredients and quality occur. Why can’t Lauriol Plaza do that too? Or TGI Fridays, for that matter? Instead we have this very safe, very large place with very large menus and the actual food becomes second thought.

    I’m not saying the food is phenomenally bad, but it’s on par with something I can make at home. Lauriol Plaza is settling because we don’t DEMAND the sort of flavors and quality and attention to the dishes we deserve to get WITH the same package. We get it with Oyamel but all people hear is “grasshopper tacos” and suddenly we become afraid of stepping out of the safe box and we go back to oversauced, overcheesed enchiladas and buckets of margaritas. We let the quality of food slide because we like the way a place looks and makes us feel, and therefore are willing to put up with mediocre food. By letting the atmosphere trump the food we put in our mouths it leads to this disconnect between how we eat and how healthy we actually are.

    Finally, a douche is a person who goes to a place like Lauriol b/c it makes them feel hip and expansive when it’s basically on the same level – food, price and service- as Chevy’s but god forbid they step foot in Chevy’s. The hypocrisy and false image – that’s the definition of a douche.

    Oh, and Tex-Mex is not Mexican food. Only Americans drink margaritas.

  6. Will (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 9:57 am

    Drinks are good at LP, but I have other first choices – Guajillo is excellent and less expensive, El Tamarindo (it’s not Mexican persay)…

    Guajillo is right next to Ray’s the Steaks in Rosslyn.

  7. Max (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 10:14 am

    I understand some of your points, Arlene. And in the end we may have to agree to disagree. But:

    1) I know it’s not “true” Mexican food. Hell, a “burrito” is a little donkey in Mexico, not something you eat. But as far as us Americans are concerned, LP is Mexican food.

    2) As I stated in a previous comment, I’m not saying LP has the best FOOD of any restaurant in town, I’m saying they have the best OVERALL PACKAGE. If you can cook something that tastes like their food, I’m coming over to your house for dinner, just as long as there aren’t any douches there.

    3) Is a douche a hot chick? If so, I see nothing wrong with douches.

    4) I have added Oyamel and Pepitos Bakery to my list of places to try – thanks!

    I guess I should have put a disclaimer on my post that reads, “If you’re a food snob, do not go to Lauriol Plaza. In fact, move to a different city that has good food.”

  8. dl004d (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 10:37 am

    My feelings on Lauriol Plaza:

    Critics say it is vastly overrated and dismiss the food as not being worthy enough to justify the packed bar of young people sipping margaritas waiting for a table. Yet clearly many people love the restaurant, or there wouldn’t be big crowds in the first place.

    But why do people have to hate Lauriol Plaza so much? Just because a place is popular doesn’t mean it’s bad. Even if it is indeed overrated, that just means it should be rated a bit lower — not that it should be discarded entirely.

  9. chimprage (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 10:44 am

    Mixtec is pretty tasty & has nice drinks

  10. darpino (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

    I prefer eating at Mexican/Latino restaurants frequented by the Mexican/Latino community rather than bland, yuppie meccas. If Lauriol Plaza is your idea of the best, you need to take a trip out to NOVA and try some real joints Max.

    It is hard to go wrong with a Latino place in Arlington however Abi Restaurant in Arlington (3005 Columbia Pike) is a real treat!

    As is El Tamarindo (Salvadorian/Mexican menu) right up the street from Lauriol.

  11. Jenn L (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 12:42 pm

    I wouldn’t really call Rosa Mexicano “local” except if you meant its geography. It’s an upscale chain like McCormick’s & Schmick’s, Morton’s, etc. Like you I haven’t been blown away by it.

    With DC’s large expat population from Central America, especially El Salvador, you know there has to be some places that are better… I hope your post gets some good suggestions!

    (Minor point: I just hate the whole “frozen margarita” thing. Real margaritas, without a trace of pre-fab sour mix, are so much better. Not that I’m a lush or anything…)

  12. Max (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 12:55 pm

    Thanks for you suggestions, Michael. As sad as it may be, I don’t venture out to the suburbs for dinner unless I happen to be running to Home Depot or something. I don’t tend to venture farther than Chinatown or Friendship Heights when it comes to dining. I think this stems from the fact that I don’t have assigned parking in Dupont and my girlfriend hates taking the Metro anywhere, so we either walk or cab.

    Maybe my last line was overlooked: “So what say you, DC residents?” Since El Tamarindo is right up the road, I’ll definitely give it a shot!

    Jenn: If it has tequila in it, I call it a margarita. :)

  13. darpino (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 1:06 pm

    Your last line wasn’t overlooked – It’s just that I have lived all over the area, for so long, that my radius for finding good eats ranges from Rockville to Fairfax and everywhere in between.

    I remember the days back when I had that Northwest mentality too. You’d be amazed how many good eats and other experiences a little regional enlightenment can expose you to.

    Enjoy El Tamarindo!

  14. norm (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 1:23 pm


    that’s what I’m talking about. you nailed it right on the head. Lauriol Plaza is overpriced garbage. I say this with an unabashed sense of entitlement as I had the benefit of spending 5 years in Tucson, Arizona.

    To put it plainly there is no good mexican food here in DC or the DC area. TexMex is revolting and devoid of any real flavor, I don’t care where you eat it. The real problem with the DC area and Mexican food is the lack of true southwest produce. Theres no flavor or texture to the slop they dole out at Lauriol and I’ve given them 3 chances since I’ve been here in DC.

    and to “Jenn L”, El Salvadorians don’t make “mexican” food.

    Blended margaritas are for sissies!

  15. c (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

    “El Salvadorians don’t make “mexican” food.”

    …not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially when munching on tasty papousas at $1.50 a pop.

  16. Max (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

    Damn, you know it’s a bad day when you’re called both a sissy and a douche!

    I don’t know what it is about Lauriol Plaza, but it divides people like the Iraq war. I wonder if people are this opinionated about Indian food? Indique anyone?

    I for one don’t think LP is over priced. $8 for a giant plate of delicious food is pretty reasonable if you ask me. Fajitas are $12. That’s a lot cheaper than if I were to make them myself!

  17. Jenn L (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 1:48 pm

    I didn’t mean to imply that El Salvadoreans make Mexican food, Norm. Yikes, I don’t want to start a regional conflict!

  18. c (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

    Actually, as Anthony Bourdain tells us all, Mexicans and Salvadorans make ALL of our restaurant food!

  19. chris (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

    I’m with Darpino on El Tamarindo, great food great prices. I am also a Denver transplant and have been plenty disappointed by the Mexican/Tex-Mex food in the area, El tamarindo never disappoints.

  20. Walter (unregistered) on March 28th, 2007 @ 3:54 pm

    Tia Queta in Bethesda is very solid and has a nice (tiny) rooftop seating, though not particularly cheap…

  21. OZA (unregistered) on March 29th, 2007 @ 12:17 am

    “Mexican food” is a misleading term since most Americans – even Mexican Americans – don’t really know what it is. Rosa Mexicano is one attempt to match the haute cuisine of Mexico City; but a decent carne asada taco is impossible to come by in this town. You’ll not get decent asada at Pepito’s, but the carnitas are killer – there are regional differences in food, so a southern Mexican is better at cooking pork while a northern Mexican is likely a cowboy. Mexico is a big country, and the cuisine is as diverse as “American” food styles are – e.g., a crab cake is not a gumbo is not a cheese enchilada (Tex Mex) is not a pastrami sandwich. Similarly, most “mex” in DC is made by non-Mexican Latino cooks who needed to draw customers in the door and hoped they’d eventually be brave enough to veer away from the cheese covered mess that no Mexican south of El Paso would recognize and try a pupusa. I don’t know what Lauriol is serving, but it ain’t from anywhere in Mexico – it’s a Latin/TexMex menu filtered through someone’s idea of what urban gabachos might want to eat. The ‘ritas are just lubricant to get that stuff down the gullet and to keep the sorority girls happy. Compared to almost any other city (Philly, NYC, Milwaukee!), DC simply doesn’t have very many decent Mexican taquerias (other than Pepito’s and possibly D.F. on 14th Street). But if you travel to Little Mexico in Riverdale, MD (on Kenilworth Ave, just south of 410), or down Route 1 in Virginia on the 2 mile stretch north of Fort Belvoir, there are several very excellent taquerias. Granted, they don’t serve any frozen drinks (good luck finding those outside of the beach resorts in Mexico, anyway) and they don’t have much “atmosphere” – but the carne asada will make you weep. Try La Mexicana Taqueria & Bakery on Arlington Drive, just off of Route 1 for starters.

    Oyamel offers a great, derivatively Mexican cuisine – it’s something new flavored by classic Mexican ingredients. Guajillo – I used to think it was great, but something changed two years ago and I haven’t been back since. I miss Andale, because like Oyamel, they knew the difference between Oaxaca and Puebla, and would let you try both.

  22. MBFan#2 (unregistered) on March 29th, 2007 @ 8:41 am

    Thanks for starting this dialogue, Max. I’ve learned a lot from all the comments – even though I’ve been in the DC area for over 10 years, I’ve yet to try all those places people are suggesting and am adding them to my list.

    I think the best Mexican food I’ve had is off the street vendor in Mexico City and if I could have gotten off the express bus from Mexico City to Guadalajara, I would have probably tasted even better food because it sure smelled tasty!

  23. Taco Bell (unregistered) on March 30th, 2007 @ 9:41 pm

    I don’t care what you people say, their salmon & shrimp w/plantains is delicious. The taco platter-chimichunga-enchilada sludge all tastes the same, try something on the right side of the menu.

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